The long view


The media (whether comic books or TV shows, movies or music) have been exciting official types toward fulmination and action for half a century at least, as congressional hearing after congressional hearing attests. Tennessee Sen. Estes Kefauver went after comics, radio and TV shows in the '50s. So did his successor, Connecticut Sen. Thomas Dodd in the '50s and '60s, as have former Tennessee Sen. Al Gore and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman today (is there something in the water in those states?). Comics were creating a generation of ghouls, Elvis' hips were corrupting morals, and The Rifleman was producing juvenile delinquents.

Now, we are told, TV ads and movies and music and videogames are creating a climate of fear and violence. (Although the studio heads' failure to show up for McCain's violence hearing last week was a political blunder, his anger toward them sounded a little bit like a complaint that not enough witches had shown up for the hunt.)

Violence has grown more graphic as the media in general have become more realistic and the technology for simulating reality has improved. Certainly, the bounds of taste have been stretched, and marketing mistakes have been made, but one generation's evolution has always appeared to be a revolution to its predecessor.

Children have long faced this cyclical Chicken Little panic on the part of their parents, and have grown up to be, for the most part, the fine, upstanding people now concerned about their children. That's why, although we are concerned for both children and the media, we're not ready to send up signal flares over the latest forecasts of falling skies. If the result of this latest volley is that the media are more responsible about how they market their violent fare, so much the better. What were they doing screening R-rated movies to 11-year-olds, anyway? (Come on, even we can see a little of Joe Camel's nose peeking under that tent.)

On the other hand, if the issue, fueled by campaign rhetoric and the isolated but no less frightening incidences of youth violence, translates this time into regulations that ban certain types of programming at certain times of day or forces broadcasters to pre-chew that programming into fare appropriate to the youngest common denominator, watch out.